How a study gets misrepresented

8 Jan

So I was looking at a blog post “This 5-Minute Visualization Technique Can Change The World,” when I came across this claim:

Visualization is a tool that helps us imagine things into being. Studies show that envisioning a brighter future can help boost our happiness in the present,

I am always skeptical about claims like “studies show” until I have actually looked at the cited studies. Here is the abstract for the referenced study, I have underlined the relevant sentence:

Theoretical conceptions on happiness have generally considered two broad perspectives: hedonic enjoyment and eudaemonia. However, most research on how to improve people’s happiness has focused primarily on the enhancement of hedonic happiness. In this longitudinal experimental study we test the differential impact of two positive exercises—Best Possible Selves and the Lottery Question—on hedonic and eudaemonic happiness. The hypothesis that the practice of the Best Possible Selves exercise would increase hedonic happiness was confirmed. This effect was immediate and maintained a week after the exercise. Furthermore, this exercise also increased eudaemonic happiness. However, its effect decreased after a week. Contrary to what was expected the Lottery Question exercise decreased both eudaemonic happiness and hedonic happiness over time. We discuss implications of this study for the literature on positive psychological and behavioral interventions to increase happiness.

Technically the blog post is not wrong, the visualization did increase happiness “in the present.” but the author failed to mention that it decreased happiness over time.

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